Wait pays off for DU’s Smart as NCAA Ski Championships start in Steamboat

Joel Reichenberger
Steamboat Today
Amelia Smart flies over a section of the course Thursday while racing in the womens giant slalom race of the NCAA Ski National Championships at Steamboat Ski Area. Smart was 10th after the first run but cut enough time on her second run to win the event.
Joel Reichenberger/Steamboat Today |

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Amelia Smart wasn’t surprised to be in first place.

Staying there, however, caught her very much off guard.

The University of Denver freshman had a solid first run in Wednesday’s women’s giant slalom, the first event of the four-day NCAA Ski National Championships taking place this week in Steamboat Springs.

She sat 10th, meaning when she pushed out of the gate for her second run, she had the best time of anyone who’d already taken a second run and the best nine women from the first run would come after her.

It would only make sense for her to be in the lead, at least until the next woman crossed the finish line, and Smart would be bumped down again and again, perhaps clinging to a top-five or top-eight finish.

It didn’t happen that way, however.

She stood at the bottom of the course huddled with her DU teammates watching an online scoreboard that updated each run as it happened.

The ninth-best woman from the first run didn’t unseat her. Neither did the eighth or the seventh.

Neither, she eventually realized, did anyone. Her second run was enough to make up for that first run and hold off any other challengers.

Smart hung on to win the women’s GS national championship and give her Pioneers a big boost on the first day of action.

“It’s pretty nerve wracking to have to wait,” she said. “I didn’t expect the time to hold up as much as it did.”

Smart wasn’t the only skier to ride a big second-run surge to an important result. Katharine Irwin, of University of New Mexico, was second overall after having the eighth-best first run time. University of Vermont’s Paula Moltzan was third after having the ninth-best first run time.

Middlebury’s Caroline Bartlett, who did have that top first-run time, was fourth.

“I had a pretty clean run the first run, maybe could have attacked it a little more, but I was pretty happy with it,” Smart said. “Honestly, all you can do is ski your fastest and then you just have to hope.”

Now, heading into Friday’s slalom race, just the second NCAA Ski Championships event of her life, she’ll be aiming for a second national championship.

“It was a bit turnier — the second run, which is more my forte — so that helped me out, but there wasn’t a secret. It was just skiing clean,” she said.

Dartmouth got off to a very strong start to the event on the men’s side, taking the top two spots.

Brian McLaughlin won that race ahead of teammate Tanguy Nef, 0.19 seconds back. Ola Buer Johansen, of University of Colorado, was third, 0.53 behind the leader.

DU’s Jett Seymour, a Steamboat Springs skier, improved after his 11th-place first-run time to place sixth overall.

The first day’s result left Vermont in the lead as the Catamounts had two skiers each in top-10 finishers in both the men’s and women’s races.

The squad scored 134 points. CU, the event’s official host, is second at 130 and DU is third at 129.

The cross-country skiers will start their week of competition Thursday with the classic skiing races at Howelsen Hill. The women will launch for a 5-kilometer race at 9 a.m. with the men following for a 10K race at 10:30 a.m.

Alpine skiing is back Friday with slalom races starting at 6:45 p.m. at Howelsen Hill, and the Nordic skiing freestyle races will wrap things up starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.